Another Birth and I'm Running Out of Names
May 2, 2022
After a safe delivery, Naomi dries off her newborn heifer calf, Buttercup. Not every birth at Miles Smith Farm is easy, but this one was.
"That dark cow is acting strange. While I was watching, the cow stood up, circled then lay down again. Three times! She can't seem to get comfortable.," said Kathy, who had taken a break from cleaning our Airbnb apartment to look at the new white calf I had just bought when she noticed the cow's restlessness. "I think you should take a look. She might be in labor," she added.
Most of the time, my cattle give birth without assistance, but not always. Once I found a cow in labor lying on her side, struggling. When I checked, the calf was positioned correctly; the head between its front legs in the birth canal. What should have been an easy birth was not. I attached straps to the calf's front feet, and even with husband Bruce and me pulling, the calf would not budge. Then I tied the straps to the back of the ATV, drove forward, and gently pulled the calf free. The calf, a male, was dead and had probably died hours earlier, but the cow was alive. The large calf inside a small mother was a deadly combination.
Unfortunately, prolonged labor and the extraction of the stillborn calf left the cow unable to get up. To help with the pain, I gave her a shot or two of Banamine, offered her water – she drank five gallons – and waited. Eventually, she stood up, and we guided her to the holding pen to recuperate. The next day, she was fully recovered, ready, and eager to return to the herd.
Of the hundreds of births on the farm, I've only had to help about a dozen times. I wondered if today was going to be one of those times. The cow, whom I'd named Naomi, was lying in a pile of hay, in labor. She had a tear in her vulva that the vet had warned might complicate a birth. Unwilling to lose the mother or baby, I called vet Molly. She said she'd be there in an hour.
Bruce and farm helper David were on hand to move the cow to the holding pen, which would be a temporary maternity ward. Then Kathy asked how the cow was.
"She's in labor. I called a vet," I said.
"You called a vet! I thought your superpower was helping cows give birth," said Kathy.
"You have great faith in me, but my real superpower is being willing to call the vet," I said.
While I waited for Holly's arrival, I located the lubricant, gloves, and the calf puller, just in case. A calf puller is a gadget with a brace that hugs the cow's butt and has chains to attach to the calf's forelegs. Then the farmer cranks a handle to ratchet out the calf. With equipment ready, I returned to check on Naomi.
There she was licking off her newborn heifer calf. I called off the vet and summoned Bruce and David to admire the calf. What a joyous moment for Buttercup! (That's her name.) I didn't get the birth on video, but I did record her first steps. You can see them on our website at: milessmithfarm.com/blog/buttercup-the-calf-is-born.
Thanks, Mary Pelkey and Mary Conly, for Naomi and Buttercup's names. Every cow on our farm needs a name, and it gets harder and harder to think them up. We have more calves due, so help me out and send in more names. Meanwhile, stop by the farm during store hours Wed. to Sat. from 10-5 p.m. to see Buttercup and her five-plus siblings.